By PAUL NEWBERRY
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods prepares to pitch it at Augusta National.
Phil Mickelson is nowhere to be found.
This scenario was unimaginable just a few months ago, when Woods was still recovering from a horrific shipwreck, while Mickelson’s huge popularity grew even further after he became golf’s oldest great champion.
But Lefty’s hubris got the better of him again, leading to a stunning fall from grace even as autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia find many willing partners for their sportswashing schemes.
Now the big question is: can Mickelson make his own comeback?
Of course he can, but who knows if he even wants to smooth things over with the PGA Tour and his teammates.
The more puzzling question is why Mickelson went this route in the first place – one of the wealthiest athletes on the planet, earning an inspiring victory at the 2021 PGA Championship just before his 51st birthday, embracing a sustained golf tour by Saudi Arabia while acknowledging the country’s dismal human rights record.
These wounds were entirely self-inflicted.
“His scandal is, frankly, a little weird,” said Mike Lewis, a marketing professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s not just a scandal, it’s a headache. You’re like, ‘Did I read that right?’
To recap, Mickelson – whose net worth has been estimated at $800 million – accused the PGA Tour of “heinous greed”. Shortly after, golf writer and author Alan Shipnuck released part of his upcoming biography on Mickelson which provides more in-depth insight into Lefty’s involvement with Greg Norman and the US-funded “Super Golf League.” ‘Saudi Arabia.
Mickelson called the Saudis “a scary mother (expletive)”, specifically mentioning the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the country’s anti-LBGTQ laws.
Then, wasting no time, Mickelson said it was worth sleeping with the Saudis if it meant changing the PGA Tour – which was essentially code to cash even bigger paychecks, a particularly important consideration, apparently. , for someone in the twilight of their career.
“Why would I even consider it?” he posed at Shipnuck. “Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.”
In the understandable backlash to Lefty’s impersonation of Mr. Burns, Mickelson lost most of his big sponsors and became an outcast in much of the golf world.
He ended his career, saying he ‘desperately needed’ time to reassess his priorities, and withdrew from the Masters – via text message, as we learned on Wednesday from Augusta national president Fred Ridley.
Ridley insisted it was Mickelson’s decision to step down, not a decision imposed by the club. It’s the first time the three-time champion has missed the Masters since 1994.
“We didn’t disinvite Phil,” Ridley said. “Phil contacted me, I think late February or early in the game, and let me know he had no intention of playing. It was through a text. thanked him for having the courtesy to let me know. I told him that we certainly appreciate that. I told him that I was certainly willing to discuss this further with him if he wished.
Beyond this brief exchange, there is no evidence that Mickelson discussed the matter with anyone beyond his inner circle. Not even with the golfers he’s quite close to, like Bryson DeChambeau.
It was a complete disappearing act.
“I tried to reach out, but it went black,” DeChambeau said this week. “There is no contact.”
While Mickelson’s alliance with the Saudis caught everyone off guard, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Lefty has demonstrated time and time again that his bank account will always be his No. 1 priority, from an insider trading scandal he was lucky to escape with just a slap on the wrist to his tax lawsuit. raised in his native California even while living a life of enormous luxury.
Mickelson has always shaped himself as the champion of the people, but the only people he really cares about are those who can make him even richer.
In this regard, it is comrades with many of the most important sports organizations in the world.
The last Winter Olympics were held in China, which has been accused of a genocidal campaign against its Uyghur minority. The FIFA World Cup will be hosted at the end of the year by Qatar, which has a long history of human rights abuses. Formula 1 turned a blind eye by awarding races to authoritarian regimes across the Middle East. World Wrestling Entertainment (not a real sport, but worth mentioning) holds annual pay-per-view events in Saudi Arabia.
Mickelson and the Saudi golf league are just another offshoot of a rapidly changing world, where morality has become a very gray issue when it comes to all that green.
“As Americans, we grew up thinking America was the center of the universe,” Lewis said. “What has happened over time with globalization is that money has really changed. … These other countries reflect the bulk of the audience in the world.
In Lewis’s eyes, the Saudi-backed golf tour is reminiscent of efforts by some of Europe’s most important football clubs to form their own super league, which would totally upend the traditional structure. of this sport within national borders.
“Phil kind of put his mouth in it,” Lewis said, “but that’s where everybody goes. There’s super league football. There’s the NBA wanting to be more of a global brand like (football’s governing body) FIFA.
No one knows where Mickelson goes from here.
Turning around may not be an option.
“The world is in a massive human rights debate,” Lewis said. “But globalization has led to it becoming much more complicated.”
Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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